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Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
Review by Tom Easton
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345461643
Date: 16 September 2008 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Critic Tom Easton says that Misspent Youth is like a more philosophical version of Rob Sawyer's Rollback and that if you like one, you probably wont like the other. Hamilton's take is certainly darker, and points out that maturity is as much (or more) a function of geriatric glands as sage wisdom. Given the rejuvenation of a "grand old man" and the kinky family relations that ensue, it's a cinch that Heinlein would have loved this.

If you liked Robert Sawyer's Rollback (Tor, 2007), you won't like Misspent Youth (first published in England in 2002 and reviewed by John Berlyne in our December issue). The themes are very similar, for both center on an old fart who is rejuvenated. Sawyer began with an old couple who have had a full life and a philanthropist who wants to restore the wife to youth. Part of the deal is that hubby gets the treatment too, and when the treatment doesn't work on her, they become a rather odd couple, still in love, but way out of step, not to mention that his hormones have been restored to foolishness . Meanwhile, SETI is coming up roses. Overall, the emphasis is on the science and technology, as well as on some of the philosophy inherent in the issues at hand.

If you did not like the Sawyer, Misspent Youth may be more to your taste. There's less science, technology, and philosophy and more psychology. Hamilton begins with Jeff Baker, also an old fart and famous for once upon a time having come up with the technological gizmo that changed the world, and then having given it away. He's a genius and a folk hero and quite well enough because he enjoys a bunch of paid directorships. He has a young wife, Sue, beautiful enough to be a trophy wife but really a marriage of convenience: he wanted a son, and she agreed to bear him if Jeff would take care of her and let her play around all she wants. They don't sleep together. The boy's a teen, bright and generally sensible but also foolish with hormones. The European Union has been funding research on rejuvenation, and even though the process is hugely expensive, they're offering it to selected high-value public figures, such as Jeff. Not surprisingly, he accepts, and eighteen months later he comes home looking like his son's older brother.

Jeff and Sue are no longer out of step. Since he looks pretty studly, they finally get it on, but alas Jeff too has those foolish hormones raging through his system. He starts bedding every pretty little thing he can get his hands on--including his son's girlfriend. Sue moves out, Tim is freaked, the girlfriend moves in, and the big question becomes whether things can get sorted out again.

There's a political background as well. The European Union is seen as heavy-handed, threatening to national identities and personal freedoms. There are Separatist movements whose implicit threat causes the Baker family to be surrounded by bodyguards. And when a major international conference is scheduled for London, every protestor and security goon in Europe heads for the scene. Since Jeff is scheduled to give a major speech, and his son and friends are out on the streets, there is a great opportunity here for intergenerational conflict and perhaps even resolution. Hamilton handles it well, albeit with a heavy dose of pathos that makes anyone who knows how thoroughly biomedical treatments are tested doubt the underlying technological premise of the story.

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